This Painter Can Even Make Toxic Sludge Look Beautiful

If you didn't think anything beautiful could come from toxic waste, well, think again. Ohio University art professor John Sabraw and civil engineer Guy Riefler have joined forces and devised a method for extracting iron oxide metals from industrial waste. The extracts can then be turned into vibrant pigments and used to create stunning works of art.

We wrote about some of Sabraw's work back in 2013, but these new prints are much more intricate, looking like far off satellite images or extreme close ups of a single leaf.


Pigments derived from acid mine drainage sites in southeastern Ohio. Courtesy of John Sabraw.

In the state of Ohio, it's estimated that over 1,000 miles of streams and rivers have been heavily contaminated by runoff from coal mines. As Kalliopi Monoyios explains on her Scientific American blog Symbiartic, when acid mine drainage spills into rivers, it pulls iron oxides and other heavy metals out of the bedrock, turning the waterways acrid shades of orange and red. But if high-quality pigments can be extracted from these toxic waters, restoring the deadly streams may pay for itself.


"Bijagos." Courtesy of John Sabraw.

Sabraw, a mixed media artist and passionate environmentalist, has recently been experimenting with his newfound pigments. The gorgeous images shown here are a few of his latest works, which will be exhibited next week at the Thomas McCormick Gallery in Chicago, IL.


"Cadence I." Courtesy of John Sabraw.

Throughout history, artists have concocted striking pigments from all sorts of unlikely sources, including insects, raw earth minerals and even mummies. It seems fitting that as humanity's footprint on the planet grows, we'll continue to unearth new and colorful sources of inspiration.


"Axioma I." Courtesy of John Sabraw.

You can read more on how artists are creating beauty from toxic waste over at Symbiartic. [Scientific American]


Top image via John Sabraw.

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